Hard as it was for Kansas State defenders to play through a 37-34 loss at Baylor last week in which the Wildcats surrendered 557 yards and 38 first downs, things only got more frustrating as they watched replays of the game and analyzed what went wrong.
There were ugly numbers that didn’t even show up on the stat sheet. The ugliest one of all: 23 missed tackles.
That was K-State’s biggest issue against the Bears. The Wildcats were in position to prevent several big plays, but Baylor’s skill players slipped away too often and gained 171 yards after contact.
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Perhaps that is why K-State coaches elected not to choose a defensive player of the week.
“That was the most frustrating part of my game,” said K-State linebacker Justin Hughes, who made 11 tackles but seemed more focused on the six he missed. “I got my first start and I have got to do better. I know I had a couple missed tackles. I have got to wrap guys up. I am trying to go out there and get the kill shot, but I have got to just wrap guys up and get them on the ground.”
Hughes was hardly the only K-State player to miss multiple tackles. Defensive backs A.J. Parker and Kevion McGee both missed three, while Eli Walker, Bronson Massie and Johnathan Durham all missed two. Many more missed one.
With Baylor running 93 plays, K-State was bound to have more missed tackles than usual, particularly with injuries mounting on that side of the ball. The Wildcats called upon several seldom-used players against the Bears, and 24 different defenders made at least one tackle.
Still, that didn’t make the result any easier to swallow.
“I don’t think being good enough is an issue. I think the execution of it (is an issue),” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “Once again, we don’t have guys that are unaggressive. They’re guys that aren’t afraid to hit you. Fundamentally, we’re not as good as we should be, could be. More often than anything, and you see it no matter who you watch and it’s still part of the basics of the game, we’re reachers, running with our hands out. You’re not going to make a whole lot of tackles that way. They work on it, defensive coaches drill it every single day, bar none. Yet, it’s not getting there.”
K-State coaches can use a few plays from the Baylor game as teaching tools before the Wildcats return to the field this weekend against Oklahoma State.
The biggest missed tackle of the game occurred on a third-and-short near midfield in the second quarter. Baylor lined up in the I-formation and gave the ball to Jalen Hurd on an inside handoff. Hughes was in position to stop him for no gain and got two hands on him at the line of scrimmage, but Hurd powered through and galloped for 37 yards.
On another play in the second quarter, Baylor receiver Denzel Mims caught a shallow crossing route on third-and-three, and K-State appeared to have him stopped. But Mims broke four tackles and kept the drive alive.
“We missed too many tackles,” K-State defensive tackle Trey Dishon said. “They were breaking two and three at a time and moving the chains when they shouldn’t be.”
Senior safety Kendall Adams was shocked.
“We have put in a couple open-field tackle drills in practice,” Adams said. “It didn’t pay off (Saturday), but if we keep practicing it things will get better as the season goes on.”
It’s not as if it was all bad for K-State’s defense against Baylor. Duke Shelley and Adams both grabbed interceptions, and safety Eli Walker had a number of quality tackles in space. Dishon came through with a sack and Hughes forced a fumble.
The Wildcats are hoping for more of those plays, and fewer missed tackles, against the Cowboys. But they know what they will be working on all week.
“You’ve got to be able to go through the fundamentals of how to do it,” Snyder said. “You want it to be natural so it’s not something you always have to think about doing. Until that point in time you do have to process the techniques — being able to step on their toes, club your arms through, lock up, drive your feet. If you do those four things, you probably have some success tackling.”